Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Managing Digital Rights - A Practitioner's Guide

Stuart Hannabuss likes the way this book reminds us that information professionals need to apply the law and not merely know it.

Everyone is talking about digital and electronic rights these days. Rightly so. A wealth of legal advice is available in works like Simon Stokes's Digital Copyright : Law and Practice [1] which alert us to the many directions in which things are moving - digital rights management, ecommerce, virtual learning environments, software copyright, licences and contracts. This professional table d'hôte indicates what information professionals are assumed to know. This is not just 'copyright in the information age' any more - that is far too generalised : now people need advice on practice and procedures, the 'how' now that the 'what' is widely known.

Digital rights management, licences and contracts, and the wider balance between information creators and users, are key professional and political issues. This has been picked up by the second edition of Chris Armstrong & Laurence Bebbington editors Staying Legal : A Guide to Issues and Practice affecting the Library, Information and Publishing Sectors [2], Paul Brennan's Law for IT Professionals [3] and Paul Pedley's own Essential Law for Information Professionals [4].The last of these has useful chapters on contracts and licensing agreements, professional liability, and defamation. Other points of reference are Sandy Norman's Practical Copyright for Information Professionals : the CILIP Handbook [5] and Graham Cornish's Copyright : Interpreting the Law for Libraries, Archives and Information Services [6].

Pedley comes highly recommended. Many readers will already know of his Essential Law, of his Information Law Newsletter, (now discontinued), his work for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and with the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) Legal Information Service. So, turning to Managing Digital Rights itself, we have expectations of relevance, and these are fulfilled. It is a short - but highly relevant - work, likely to be useful to any information professional, particularly anyone interested in:

Five short but informative chapters which could, easily, have appeared as articles in professional journals, but are helpfully brought together here as a coherent view. The 'practitioner's view' has been, I believe, the rationale for this work. Anyone substantially versed in what the other works say will know the issues. Owners of, say, Norman's book, will probably not need to read her chapter except for interest and for her excellent comparison between Europe, America, and Australia. Potential buyers should also be aware of the fact that the advice from Pickering, formerly Copyright Manager for HERON, now with Ingenta, on how copyright clearance works for the scheme is as much an advertisement for newcomers as a checklist for subscribers. Furthermore the chapter by Purdy, Information Adviser at Sheffield Hallam University, on 'digital rights and education' is more a guide for student newbies, and is certainly the most generalised contribution.

The contribution from Watson, Head of Rights and Information at Newsquest Media Group (which includes the Glasgow newspaper The Herald), provides a fascinating viewpoint from the industry. Here we are offered the newspaper and publisher perspective on digital rights, the way creation and delivery entail contractual and licensing arrangements, the role of collective licensing bodies like the Newspaper Licensing Agency, legal changes reflected in cases like Tasini and Loutchansky and Gutnik, and implications for pricing and tracking. What Watson says about defamation and contempt of court will interest students of publishing and media. All of which takes us back to Pedley's overview, which is topical in picking up on relevant EC Directives and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) law, examining challenges to interpretation which affect information professionals, and highlighting the growth of licences and contracts in the digital domain.

These - and the book itself, at its level - hit a bullseye with the issues and preoccupations they raise. Principal among these is how information professionals are caught in a cross-fire between rights holders and users in the global digital field. Even though there are (probably inevitable) unevennesses of emphasis, this work has identified the current concerns of the profession. A natural, then, for the professional library. A good quick read to update one's knowledge. Some obvious stuff, some locatable elsewhere, and generally likely to interest information professionals in learning/teaching environments more than others. Case studies would have been welcome, teasing out the interpretation and application of the law, rather than, at times, a general debate about rights balances or, at others, detailed advice on procedures, and I hope that Pedley will next direct his clear talents to producing just such a book. Moreover an advanced text for specialists in DRM (Digital Rights Management) is much needed, above all now.


  1. Simon Stokes, Digital Copyright : Law and Practice, Butterworths/Lexis Nexis & Tarlo Lyons, 2002, subsequently Tottel Publishing and now available from Marston Book Serives Ltd of Abingdon, Oxon, UK, ISBN 0 406-94702-3
  2. Editor's note: In respect of Staying Legal: A Guide to Issues and Practice Affecting the Library, Information and Publishing Sectors, Chris Armstrong & Laurence W Bebbington, editors, 2nd edition, Facet Publishing 2004, ISBN 1 85604 438 6 : Stuart is too modest to reference his own review; to be found in Ariadne issue 40, July 2004
  3. Paul Brennan, Law for IT Professionals, emis professional publishing, 2003, ISBN 1 85811 322 9
  4. Paul Pedley, Essential Law for Information Professionals, Facet Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1 85604 440 8
  5. Sandy Norman, Practical Copyright for Information Professionals : the CILIP Handbook, Facet Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1 85604 490 4
  6. Graham Cornish, Copyright : Interpreting the Law for Libraries, Archives and Information Services, (now in its 4th edition), Facet Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1 856-4 508 0

Author Details

Dr Stuart Hannabuss
Aberdeen Business School

Email: s.hannabuss@rgu.ac.uk

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